Why Banksy ‘Mobile Lovers’ has the power to unsettle


Already dubbed ‘Mobile Lovers’ by fans and art websites, Banksy’s latest work has made the headlines after cropping up on the wall of a gym in Bristol. His work always offers critical commentary on societal issues, and there’s a definite message on offer in his latest work. The scene depicted is one that is by no means foreign to us; two people physically close to one another, but not engaged with one another, due to their other loves – their mobile devices.

The irony here is that the technology that is supposed to help us connect, is actually serving to keep us apart. It is also beautifully portrayed in this popular YouTube video called I forgot my phone.

A 2013 study by Ofcom tries to suggest that smartphones and tablets are helping to bring families together – communal TV viewing is on the rise, with each member of the family able to watch TV together, yet multi-task in their own way. Togetherness? Really?

Yet, it seems that nothing can wean us off our addiction to our mobile devices. According to a 2012 study commissioned by SecurEnvoy, 66% of 1,000 Britons surveyed said that they were afraid of either losing, or being separated from their mobile phones. And another 2013 study by app maker Locket says that the average person unlocks their phone 110 times a day.

Our ‘connectivity devices’ aren’t just helping to keep us apart from those we’re physically with. It’s the consensus among social psychologists that just 7% of communication is in the actual words we use. The other 93% is made up of things like tone and inflection, proxemics and, of course, body language.

Screen shot 2014-04-19 at 19.30.13We can all relate to a time when a text message we’ve sent was misinterpreted. Given our reliance on these written forms of communication, it makes sense that we’ve found ways to try to make them richer in meaning. The prolific use of emojis and smileys are ways in which we try to re-humanise this form of communication. They help us express the 93% of meaning that transcends the written word.

And, there’s one more ironic dynamic at play here. We’re now using our ‘connectivity devices’ to deliberately avoid having to connect. They’re allowing us to airbrush the awkward out of our lives.

  • We use our phones to avoid awkward silences rather than finding something to talk about. It’s arguably undermining the art of conversation.
  • Apps such as Tinder take the awkwardness out of initiating a date.
  • Google Maps mean that we don’t have to ask anyone for directions anymore.
  • Drunk Mode lets us block our contacts for 12 hours so we don’t risk dialling any, and embarrassing ourselves, when we’re drunk.
  • Hell is other people is an anti-social experiment that uses FourSquare to track our ‘frenemies’ and help us avoid them.
  • The Fount.in app analyses users’ Twitter conversations, picking up on health related conversations, and marries this with location tracking to enable us to avoid spaces, places and people where viruses might lurk.
  • And perhaps the most extreme example of avoidance is in Japan with Otaku gaming culture, where legions of young men are preferring to have relationships with virtual girlfriends than real ones.

Mobile Lovers strikes a chord because we recognise this behaviour in ourselves, yet we’re powerless to do anything about it.   Perhaps we need to ask ourselves the next time we pick up our mobile phone: ‘Am I looking to make a connection here, or to avoid making one?

McQ Thinking is a boutique brand and communication consultancy that partners with the marketing and advertising communities. Find out more at www.mcqthinking.com.



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